Lowest cost approach is thwarting growth of sustainable design and construction says think tank

The government has failed to translate regulations on sustainable procurement into practice, according to an inquiry by an influential think tank.

A report published today by the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum, based on evidence from public sector clients, consultants and contractors, claimed that there have been a “plethora of missed opportunities” for sustainable construction.

In particular, the report claims that good designs for low energy use buildings have frequently been rejected at planning stage or stripped of sustainability elements due to short-term cost concerns.

The report makes a series of recommendations to improve the sustainability of public buildings, including:

  • Government must establish realistic budgets for sustainable construction and provide the necessary funding to meet its commitment to sustainable procurement
  • DBERR must commission long-term forecasts for future energy prices that may then be used by procurers to calculate whole life cost
  • The BRE should consider introducing thresholds for the BREEAM ratings that require a building to achieve at least a “very good” rating in each aspect of its design if it is to achieve an “excellent” rating overall.
  • Government should consider developing tailored targets for new public sector buildings that are sensitive to factors including location, size and hours of use.

David Kidney MP, the inquiry’s co-chair, said: “While the government has recognised that it must use the procurement process to lead by example, progress has not been uniform. It almost seems that every instance of best practice in public sector construction is matched by a missed opportunity.”

Barbara Morton, the other co-chair and a director of Action Sustainability, said: “Government must emphasise that value for money does not equate to lowest cost and at the same time provide the incentives to encourage sustainable procurement.”